When the French Revolution broke out, Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities that “It was the best of times and the worst of times.”
Today we have seen the best and the worst of our democratic process on display for the world. The debates that were taking place in both houses of Congress regarding the certification of the Electoral College votes were important statements about the strength of our democracy, with all of its shortcomings. The awful scenes of a mob breaking into the Capitol were the worst and showed how fragile our democratic process is.
It was heartbreaking today to see this building and members of our House and Senate under attack by those who chose to use force rather than legal means of dissent. I once worked for a U.S. senator in the 1960s in the Capitol and treasured the opportunity to watch difficult decisions being made. From the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to the Vietnam War, I watched the Senate and the House find ways to work together in spite of their disagreements. Even after the heartbreaking assassination of President John F. Kennedy, there was no physical attack on our Capitol.
When I watched President Donald Trump speaking on Wednesday, giving his long and rambling views on his belief that he had won the election, I kept hoping to hear him say that in spite of his disappointment, he valued the democratic process and would accept its results. Obviously, that was not his message.
For 30 years, I taught U.S. history because I thought it was such a privilege to share the great story of this amazing country. It has not always been an easy story to tell because there have been terrible mistakes made in our past — as well as great victories — but through it all there has been the story of hope and a belief that the democratic process would provide the way to a better future.
Today, we saw a very large peaceful protest destroyed by a group of protesters who had no respect for our government or our democratic way of life. While many rightfully may disagree with those who chose to protest the results of the election, it basically had been peaceful. There had been no attempt to burn the city of Washington, D.C., as with the riots last summer in many of our major cities. But there is no way to justify those who chose to riot and enter the Capitol building to prevent the functioning of our government.
Having worked in the Capitol and having seen how much security surrounds it every day, I am at a complete loss as to why there was so little security available Wednesday. There was obviously a complete failure to protect the building and those working there. But that in no way excuses the behavior of the group of protesters who entered the building with the intent of doing harm to the democratic process.
We must all try to reestablish the trust that is the heart of our democracy. Without the ability to maintain our democratic institutions and the rule of law and order, we have no democratic republic.